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South | Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars | review | alternative | Lollipop
Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars (Young American)
by Tim Den
When South's debut, From Here on In, came out a few years ago, it garnered much buzz based on the fact that it meshed distinctively British songwriting with distinctively British electronica. James Lavelle of Unkle and Mo Wax Records produced it, after all, and good chunks of the music world could be heard discussing the band's creations. But not I. I found the album long-winded and meandering, lacking cohesion and focus. It wasn't until the follow-up, With the Tides, that I became entranced by the band's magic. Gone were the electronic flourishes, but in their place, the trio had learned to write concise, meaningful, affectionate rock that needed no extra embellishments. I placed "Motiveless Crime" and "Colours in Waves" on every mix CD I made for the next year and a half, thoroughly captivated by their bittersweet melodies.
But, of course, as with every great album that's full of substance, it fared poorly in "the marketplace." People paid more attention to the fact that Lavelle and his electronic touches were gone than the actual songwriting at hand. It didn't matter that With the Tides had FAR superior hooks than the likes of Coldplay: It wasn't in the same vein as From Here on In - meaning it lacked a gimmick - so it wasn't gonna get recognition. A damn shame, since Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars just might receive the same treatment.
South have again reinvented themselves with great results, daring to challenge the modern aesthetically-led audience to look beneath appearances for the goods. But will music listeners, in a move worthy of science fiction, forget how loud the guitars are or how dancey it is and just listen for once? In a perfect world, yes. And they would find the same ingredients that made With the Tides so fantastic: Great songwriting.
Adventures..., overall, is a more upbeat album than its predecessor. The focus remains on the hooks and tight arrangements, but chord progressions and time signatures lean heavier on the side of the peppy. Not too peppy, of course - these guys are British - but just enough to make the album something you'd put on at a party instead of at bedtime. Perhaps its "lighter mood" will reel in fans who would otherwise be too deaf to notice the great craftsmanship embedded in the songs? Hopefully they'll come for the liveliness and stay for the fabulous conversation.
It's hard to pinpoint specific songs or moments as examples of South's penchant for good writing, because so much of it is so traditional yet right. They're rock songs that sound very British; catchiness that's a tad sad with sunshine tucked in between. Nothing complicated or incredibly inventive, just flat out good songs. And is that such a bad thing? Is perfecting the verse/chorus/verse/chorus formula something to be embarrassed about?
I kind of thought With the Tides was going to be a brilliant fluke, that the band struck gold accidentally and would never do so again. How happy I am to be proven wrong. Adventures... is a strong album that again shows how South can change their appearance without losing their sense of craft. Do yourself a favor and let them win you over.